Harris Wants Free Abortions for N.I. Women


The Irish government is trying to find a way to offer free abortions to women from Northern Ireland. Sources close to Simon Harris said the health minister was “frustrated” by legal barriers that would block the state from covering the cost of an abortion for women from Northern Ireland.


This week, Mr Harris met activists from Northern Ireland’s pro-choice groups to discuss abortion access over the border after Ireland legalises abortion on demand up to 12 weeks. He and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar have already promised that Northern Irish women will be able to access abortion in the republic. The government has been advised, however, that there could be legal issues with offering abortions free of charge to women from Northern Ireland and not to those from other countries. “Whether we like it or not, Northern Ireland is still part of the UK,” a government source said. “While the British government can offer to cover the cost [of women from Northern Ireland] for services in England and Wales, we’re having trouble finding a way to do it.”


Louise O’Reilly, the Sinn Féin spokeswoman on health, tried to amend the abortion bill in the Health Committee to extend free abortions to women from Northern Ireland. The amendment was ruled out of order, but Minister Harris indicated to her that he would be willing to consider ways to provide the abortions without charging for them.


“Let me be very clear: women from Northern Ireland will be able to access services in the Republic of Ireland, of that there is no doubt,” he said. “We are not leaving women from the North behind in relation to this. Until the North gets around to rectifying the inequalities in its own jurisdiction, we are going to ensure that women in Northern Ireland are able to access health services here. “In terms of cost and [whether there is] a way of making [abortion services] free, it is a complex issue . . . I welcome your invitation to meet with the representative groups next week.”

The Times. November 12.

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